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I get a tip from a colleague that Traci Hughes might be out as the D.C. Police Department’s spokesperson. This morning, I call her office to get confirmation.
I’m put on hold. After two minutes, I decide to hang up and try again.
I’m put on hold again.
Finally, a pleasant voice gets on the line at the D.C. Police Department’s Office of Public Information.
I ask: What happened to Traci Hughes? Is she no longer the D.C. Police spokesperson?
I am instructed that the Office of Public Information can not answer such questions. I am then given a name and number of someone in “Strategic Services.” His name is Kevin Palmer.
I get Palmer’s voicemail.
I e-mail Mayor Fenty’s spokesperson Mafara Hobson seeking answers. After some back and forth, I ask her: “Who is Kevin Palmer and why is he replacing Traci?”
Hobson writes back: “She is no longer there?”
It dawns on me that this is a fitting end to Hughes’ tenure as D.C. Police spokesperson. This is an office that doesn’t know anything about FOIA deadlines (I’m still waiting for one that I sent months and months ago). It is often an office overtaken by a more powerful office (the Office of the Attorney General).
Despite our differences, Hughes handled her job well. She brought a quiet cool to a job that is one of the most stressful and demanding in the city; she always replied in a perfect NPR voice. I can only imagine how many times she got an angry phone call from a reporter or, say, Peter Nickles. There are good people that run that office. But sometimes media inquires had a tendency to die there.
I call Hughes’ cellphone. The call gets routed back to the Office of Public Information. I’m told to call Palmer.
Again, I get Palmer’s voicemail.
I e-mail Hughes. And I get this: “I am no longer the point of contact for the Office of Communications…”
After more back and forth with Hobson, I get this from the mayor’s chief talking head: “Kevin has taken over because Traci is no longer employed with MPD.”
I ask why is Hughes no longer with MPD? Hobson replies: “I don’t know.”
I finally reach Kevin Palmer. He says he became the acting spokesperson roughly a week ago. I ask about Hughes and why she left. “She is no longer with MPD,” he says, adding that he doesn’t know why she left.
Palmer, who has been on the civilian side for seven years, assures that he hopes to foster good press relations. “We’re here to try to make everybody’s life easier,” he says.
2 p.m. update: Hughes e-mails me back. She says she was told that she was being laid off due to budget cuts.
2:19 update: Hobson writes in to clarify her “She is no longer there?” response. She writes: “Jason I wasn’t asking you if Traci wasn’t there, I was telling you that Kevin has taken over her duties as she is no longer the head PIO. The question mark indicates my misunderstanding of your question of why he’s replaced her when it’s clear that someone has to assume that role.”
*photo by Darrow Montgomery.